Why 2℃ of global warming is much worse for Australia than 1.5℃


Andrew King, University of Melbourne; Ben Henley, University of Melbourne, and David Karoly, University of Melbourne

Australia is a land of extremes. We’ve experienced all manner of climate extremes over the past few years, from heatwaves (both on land and over the Great Barrier Reef), to droughts and flooding rains. The Conversation

We can already link some of these recent extreme events to climate change. But for others, the link is less clear.

So far we have had about 1℃ of global warming above the average pre-industrial climate. So how will extreme weather events change with more warming in the future? Will they become more frequent? Will they become more severe?

We have investigated these questions in our new research, published today in Nature Climate Change.

Climate targets

The Paris Agreement, brokered in 2015, committed the world’s governments to:

Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2℃ above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5℃ above pre-industrial levels, recognising that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.

It is vital that we understand how climate extremes in Australia might change if we limit global warming to either 1.5℃ or 2℃, and what the implications might be of pursuing the more lenient target rather than the more ambitious one.

In our study we used state-of-the-art climate model simulations to examine the changing likelihood of different climate extremes under four different scenarios: a natural world without any human-caused climate change; the world of today; a 1.5℃ warmer world; and a 2℃ warmer one.

Heat extremes are here to stay

First, we looked at hot Australian summers, like the record-breaking “angry summer” of 2012-13.

We already knew that human influences on the climate had increased the likelihood of hot summers. Our results show that this trend would continue with future warming. In fact, in a world of 2℃ global warming, even an average summer would outstrip those historically hot ones like 2012-13.

Australian summer temperatures are strongly related to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, with hot summers more likely to occur during El Niño events, and cooler ones during La Niña episodes.

In the past, a summer as hot as 2012-13 would have been very unlikely during a La Niña. But our modelling predicts that with either 1.5℃ or 2℃ of global warming, we could expect similarly angry summers to occur during both El Niño and La Niña periods.

We already know that the sea surface temperatures associated with mass bleaching of much of the Great Barrier Reef in early 2016 would have been virtually impossible without climate change. If the world continues to warm to either the 1.5℃ or 2℃ levels, very warm seas like we saw early last year would become the norm.

High sea temperatures linked to coral bleaching in Great Barrier Reef will become more likely in a warmer world.
Author provided

In fact, our research suggests that with 2℃ of global warming, the future average sea temperatures around the Great Barrier Reef would be even hotter than the extremes observed around the time of the 2016 bleaching.

Less change for heavy rains and droughts

In December 2010 Queensland was devastated by severe flooding following very heavy rainfall. Our analysis suggests that this kind of event is highly unusual, and may well continue to be so. There isn’t a clear signal for an increase or decrease in those events with ongoing climate warming.

Natural climate variability seems to play a greater role than human-driven climate change (at least below the 2℃ threshold) when it comes to influencing Australian heavy rainfall events.

The Millennium Drought across southeast Australia led to water shortages and crop failures. Drought is primarily driven by a lack of rainfall, but warmer temperatures can exacerbate drought impacts by increasing evaporation.

Our results showed that climate change is increasing the likelihood of hot and dry years like we saw in 2006 across southeast Australia. At 1.5℃ and 2℃ of global warming these events would probably be more frequent than they are in today’s world.

Heat extremes are much more common at 2℃ than 1.5℃
Author provided

Not a lost cause

It is clear that Australia is going to suffer from more frequent and more intense climate extremes as the world warms towards (and very likely beyond) the levels described in the Paris Agreement.

If we miss these targets, the warming will continue and the extremes we experience in Australia are going to be even worse.

With either 1.5℃ or 2℃ global warming, we will see more extremely hot summers across Australia, more frequent marine heatwaves of the kind that can cause bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef, and probably more frequent drought conditions too.

The more warming we experience, the worse the impacts will be. The solution is clear. To limit global warming, the world’s nations need to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions – fast.

Andrew King, Climate Extremes Research Fellow, University of Melbourne; Ben Henley, Research Fellow in Climate and Water Resources, University of Melbourne, University of Melbourne, and David Karoly, Professor of Atmospheric Science, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Turnbull unveils Snowy plan for pumped hydro, costing billions



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The Snowy Hydro scheme already provides back-up energy to NSW and Victoria.
AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

In its latest move on energy policy, the Turnbull government has unveiled a plan to boost generation from the Snowy Hydro scheme by 50%. The Conversation

The government says the expansion, which it has labelled the Snowy Mountains Scheme 2.0, would add 2,000 megawatts of renewable energy to the National Electricity Market. This would be enough to power 500,000 homes.

Claiming the upgrading would be an “electricity game-changer”, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that in one hour it would be able to produce 20 times the 100 megawatt-hours expected from the battery proposed this week by the South Australian government, but would deliver it constantly for almost a week.

Turnbull flew to the Snowy early Thursday to formally announce the plan. The commonwealth is a minority shareholder in the Snowy Hydro, with a 13% stake. New South Wales and Victoria have 58% and 29% stakes respectively.

The government, through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), would examine several sites that could support large-scale pumped hydroelectric energy storage in the area, Turnbull said.

Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said the cost would run into “billions of dollars”. It is being suggested it would be around A$2 billion. Frydenberg avoided being tied down on when it would be completed.

He said three new tunnels were being looked at, stretching 27 kilometres for the pumped hydro-facility. It would not involve new dams, but connect existing reservoirs and recycle water.

The plan had the potential to ensure there would be the needed renewable energy supply for those on the east coast at times of peak demand, Frydenberg said.

Tony Wood, energy program director at the Grattan Institute, cautioned that the plan would involve technical and economic issues, including whether it could make money, and to what extent it could contribute to solving the short-term power crisis.

“This isn’t some sort of magic panacea,” Wood told the ABC. Some hard-headed thinking was needed on what it would do and how it would work.

Turnbull said: “The unprecedented expansion will help make renewables reliable, filling in holes caused by intermittent supply and generator outages.

“It will enable greater energy efficiency and help stabilise electricity supply into the future,” he said – adding that this would ultimately mean cheaper power prices.

He said successive governments at all levels had failed to put in place the needed storage to ensure reliable supply.

“We are making energy storage infrastructure a critical priority to ensure better integration of wind and solar into the energy market and more efficient use of conventional power.”

Turnbull said an “all-of-the-above” approach, including hydro, solar, coal and gas, was critical to future energy supplies.

Snowy Hydro already provided back-up energy to NSW and Victoria and could extend to South Australia when expanded, he said. The expansion would have no impact on the supply of irrigation water to NSW, South Australia and Queensland.

The feasibility study for the expansion is expected to be completed before the end of this year, with construction starting soon after, he said.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/kwxda-68af74?from=yiiadmin

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

So long, Climate Institute – too sensible for the current policy soap opera


Marc Hudson, University of Manchester

The Climate Institute, which was among the first Australian NGOs to focus solely on climate change, is to shut down at the end of June after 12 years. The Conversation

It was born into an era when politicians and voters were finally waking up to the importance of climate policy. But now, its self-described “centrist, pragmatic advocacy” has run out of financial backing.

Early years

It’s easy to forget, given the political theatrics we’ve witnessed over the past decade, just how little attention was being paid to climate policy before the explosion of concern in late 2006. Life was bleak for environmental groups under the four Howard governments from 1996 to 2007, with the partial and controversial exception of WWF.

Climate change was simply not an issue that had traction with the federal government, and the business community had fought itself to a standstill on the topic of whether Australia should ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which John Howard resisted to the end.

Bob Carr, the then premier of New South Wales, had been trying to get carbon trading onto state and federal agendas with limited success.

By 2004 attitudes were shifting, not least because of the ongoing Millennium Drought. In a 2015 interview Clive Hamilton, a climate policy academic and inaugural board chair of the Climate Institute, noted:

In the early 2000s when the environment groups started to get serious about climate change, they adopted their standard tactics, which had run out of steam. The problem for environmentalism in Australia, as well as internationally, is that they had this glorious period of the 1980s and ‘90s, and then they became institutionalised; their tactics became stale. It wasn’t their fault – it’s just the world changed.

Hamilton explained that in 2005, Mark Wootton, director of the Poola Foundation, approached him saying that he had A$5 million and wanted to spend it on something that would “cut through” the stagnant climate change debate. Hamilton thought about it and proposed the Climate Institute, which he put together over the ensuing months. After chairing the board for its first year Hamilton returned to his duties at the Australia Institute.

Launching a tour of rural Australia the following year, Wootton told journalists:

People have to see there is a solution, that there is a way out… It’s about people moving on and not feeling that sense of despair, which I’ve genuinely felt, and that’s why we set this up.

The institute opened its doors in October 2005 and was soon in the headlines. Howard attacked Carr, declaring himself “amazed a former Labor premier should advocate that we should sign up to something that would export the jobs of Australian workers”.

A month later, the Climate Institute returned fire with an attack on the Howard government’s Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, widely interpreted as a way for polluting nations to dodge Kyoto.

This pattern of well-timed reports and timely rebuttals has continued over the past 12 years. During this time the Climate Institute has challenged successive governments to do more, to create stronger policy and a more predictable investment environment – something that is sorely lacking to this day.

The institute’s critics will claim it never escaped the neoliberal paradigm – the idea that the market can and will deliver as long as the right policy levers are pulled at the right time. In fairness, though, it never pledged to transcend free-market economics anyway, although it also tried along the way to expand the argument to include moral (and religious) values.

Main achievements

In the reporting on the institute’s demise, its main claims to fame are listed as helping to expand the renewable energy target in 2008, saving the Climate Change Authority from Tony Abbott’s axe in 2014, and building bipartisan support for Australia to ratify the Paris climate agreement in 2016.

But there was much else that the Climate Institute worked on, which is in danger of being forgotten.

It toured rural Australia to listen to farmers’ concerns.

It tried to signal to politicians that voters cared. For example, before the “first climate change election” in November 2007, it commissioned a poll of 877 voters in nine key marginal electorates. It found that 73% of voters thought climate change would have either a strong or a very strong influence on their vote at the election, an increase from 62% in August.

It also played a part in stitching together what political scientists call “advocacy coalitions”. One notable example was its help in producing the Common belief: Australia’s faith communities on climate change report, released in December 2006 with input from 16 Australian communities including Aboriginal Australians, Anglicans, Baptists, Catholics, Evangelicals, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and other denominations.

Why it died and what next?

The institute’s outgoing chief executive, John Connor, told Reneweconomy that the decision ultimately comes down to funding:

We haven’t been able to plug the [funding] gap. Centrist, pragmatic advocacy is not sexy for many people who want to fund the fighters or pour funds into new technology.

As such, the Climate Institute is another victim of the policy paralysis that has exasperated and bewildered commentators.

It is indeed hard to justify the funding of calm, measured policy advice when the mere mention of the most economically tame of notions – an emissions intensity scheme – causes panic and retreat in the federal government.

Climatologist and Climate Council member Will Steffen, interviewed on the ABC, suggested that over the past two or three years many organisations have begun to take climate change on board, and so the institute’s unique role was lessened.

But one piece of the furniture that urgently needs saving is the institute’s Climate of the Nation, the longest trend survey of the attitudes of Australians to climate change and its solutions. Hopefully another organisation (I’m looking at you, Australian Conservation Foundation) will pick this up.

The staff of the Climate Institute will hopefully find new roles within the now smaller ecosystem of environmental policy advice. With the impacts that the institute and others were warning about in 2005 arriving with depressing predictability, Australia desperately needs three things.

It needs community energy programs. It needs effective opposition to plans for yet more fossil fuel extraction. And most relevantly here, it needs a cacophony of well-informed and relentless voices advocating for the most useful policies to get the carbon out of our economy.

There’s a fourth thing, actually: luck. From here on we are going to need an enormous (and undeserved) amount of luck if the lost years of ignoring sensible climate policy advice are not to come back and haunt us.

Marc Hudson, PhD Candidate, Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Labor’s climate policy could remove the need for renewable energy targets


Tony Wood, Grattan Institute

The federal Labor Party has sought to simplify its climate change policy. Any suggestion of expanding the Renewable Energy Target has been dropped. But there is debate over whether the new policy is actually any more straightforward as a result.

One thing Labor did confirm is its support for an emissions intensity scheme (EIS) as its central climate change policy for the electricity sector. This adds clarity to the position the party took to the 2016 election and could conceivably remove the need for a prescribed renewable energy target anyway.

An EIS effectively gives electricity generators a limit on how much carbon dioxide they can emit for each unit of electricity they produce. Power stations that exceed the baseline have to buy permits for the extra CO₂ they emit. Power stations with emissions intensities below the baseline create permits that they can sell.

An EIS increases the cost of producing electricity from emissions-intensive sources such as coal generation, while reducing the relative cost of less polluting energy sources such as renewables. The theory is that this cost differential will help to drive a switch from high-emission to low-emission sources of electricity.

The pros and cons of an EIS, compared with other forms of carbon pricing, have been debated for years. But two things are clear.

First, an EIS with bipartisan support would provide the stable carbon policy that the electricity sector needs. The sector would be able to invest with more confidence, thus contributing to security of supply into the future.

Second, an EIS would limit the upward pressure on electricity prices, for the time being at least.

These reasons explain why there was a brief groundswell of bipartisan support for an EIS in 2016, until the Turnbull government explicitly ruled it out in December.

Moving targets

Another consideration is whether, with the right policy, there will be any need for firm renewable energy targets. This may help to explain Labor’s decision to rule out enlarging the existing scheme or extending it beyond 2020.

If we had a clear policy to reduce emissions at lowest cost, whether in the form of an EIS or some other scheme, renewable energy would naturally increase to whatever level is most economically efficient under those policy settings. Whether this reaches 50% or any other level would be determined by the overall emissions-reduction target and the relative costs of various green energy technologies.

In this scenario, a separately mandated renewable energy target would be simply unnecessary and would probably just add costs with no extra environmental benefit. Note that this reasoning would apply to state-based renewable energy policies, which have become a political football amid South Australia’s recent tribulations over energy security.

An EIS is also “technology agnostic”: power companies would be free to pursue whatever technology makes the most economic sense to them. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull explicitly endorsed this idea earlier this month.

Finally, an EIS would integrate well with the National Electricity Market, a priority endorsed by the COAG Energy Council of federal, state and territory energy ministers. State and territory governments may find this an attractive, nationally consistent alternative that they could support.

Strengths and weaknesses

A 2016 Grattan Institute report found that an EIS could be a practical step on a pathway from the current policy mess towards a credible energy policy. Yet an EIS has its weaknesses, and some of Labor’s reported claims for such a scheme will be tested.

In the short term, electricity prices would indeed rise, although not as much as under a cap-and-trade carbon scheme. It is naive to expect that any emissions-reduction target (either the Coalition’s 26-28% or Labor’s 45%) can be met without higher electricity costs.

Another difficulty Labor will have to confront is that setting the initial emission intensity baseline and future reductions would be tricky. The verdict of the Finkel Review, which is assessing the security of the national electricity market under climate change policies, will also be crucial.

Despite media reports to the contrary, Chief Scientist Alan Finkel and his panel have not recommended an EIS. Their preliminary report drew on earlier reports noting the advantages of an EIS over an extended renewable energy target or regulated closure of fossil-fuelled power stations, but also the fact that cap-and-trade would be cheaper to implement.

Labor has this week moved towards a credible climate change policy, although it still has work to do and its 45% emissions-reduction target will still be criticised as too ambitious. Meanwhile, we’re unlikely to know the Coalition government’s full policy until after it completes the 2017 Climate Change Policy Review and receives the Finkel Review’s final report.

Australians can only hope that we are starting to see the beginnings of the common policy ground that investors and electricity consumers alike so urgently need.

The Conversation

Tony Wood, Program Director, Energy, Grattan Institute

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Climate Policy’s House of Cards


Clive Hamilton, Charles Sturt University

There are the pragmatists willing to compromise to get at least something, and then there are the idealists who stick to their principles and end up with nothing. Or so the argument goes.

This tired old binary has been used by various pundits to frame the division within the Climate Change Authority that saw the publication of a majority report and, last week, a minority report authored by Professor David Karoly and myself.

It’s all very noble, the pundits have been writing, to stick to what climate science demands, but in the real world of hard politics what we need now is a way through the political impasse. They praise the majority report because that is what it purports to give us. A solution.

So Ross Gittins, the Sydney Morning Herald’s economics editor, hailed the majority report as a potential breakthrough, ‘a bridge to a bipartisan climate change policy’. He is not one of those (like us, he implies) who believes ‘if you can’t have it all, you’re better off having nothing’.

Richard Denniss, chief economist at the centrist think tank the Australia Institute, believes the majority report has given the Coalition ‘a way out of the climate policy cul-de-sac’.

And after giving ‘the purist position’ a pat on the head, the Saturday Paper’s Mike Seccombe decodes the policy ‘toolkit’ of the majority report as the mechanism ‘by which the government might realistically address’ the biggest problem Australia faces.

But let’s stop and think about the pundits’ story, the political strategy that might allow the carefully crafted toolkit of the majority report to become a bipartisan way out of the climate policy morass.

The story goes like this. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull really wants to do something about climate change. But because of the power of conservatives in his party room he has to find a policy approach that will be both effective and somehow get past the sceptics.

Luckily for him (and his former environment minister Greg Hunt), the Climate Change Authority, with six new members, was in the process of reviewing Australia’s climate policy. Now it has produced a report showing how, with a bit of subterfuge, the government can make a start on a decent climate policy.

The majority report recommends keeping Tony Abbott’s Direct Action policy (which would helpfully provide political cover for the Prime Minister) but ‘enhances’ it. Instead of Labor’s big bang emissions trading policy that scared the electorate, it puts forward a suite of sensible measures.

They include a benign-looking emissions trading scheme in the electricity sector and a hybrid-ETS in other energy sectors, although in disguised form. And the words ‘emissions trading scheme’ have been banished.

The pundits could detect the genius of the majority report’s approach. It keeps enough of existing policy to prevent the backbench sceptics flaring up but it also overlaps sufficiently with the Labor Party’s platform that the Opposition will go along with it and so vote for it in the Senate.

After the nonthreatening toolkit has been pushed through parliament the Prime Minister would be able to ramp up the level of ambition of Australia’s emission cuts, and the momentum would (somehow) drown out his critics.

Hey Presto! We have the holy grail of a bipartisan climate policy that will make a difference.

But how credible is this story, the one that gives the pundits confidence that the majority report offers a real chance of a breakthrough? It asks us to believe a lot.

Firstly, it assumes that Malcolm Turnbull’s sceptical backbench is too dopey to realize that the strategy is a bait and switch. (The same goes for his Coalition partners – that piece of straw clamped between Barnaby Joyce’s teeth is a giveaway.) Mike Seccombe thinks they are, describing the majority report as ‘clever’ because it hides what needs to be done.

Second, does Malcolm Turnbull really want to do something about climate change? Since he became leader (possible only after signing a commitment to the National Party never to introduce an emissions trading scheme), the evidence is hardly encouraging. After all, he wants to abolish the Australian Renewable Energy Authority, and he did nothing when the CSIRO gutted its climate science capability.

Third, if he is serious, is the Prime Minister willing to spend his political capital pushing his climate change agenda through the Coalition party rooms? Perhaps more to the point after his election set-back, does he have any political capital to spend? Many commentators say ‘no’ and the ill-disguised challenges to his authority in recent weeks seem to confirm it.

Fourth, will the Labor Party decide that it’s in its interests to go along with the secret plan and give it bipartisan support? The signs are not positive. Labor’s climate change spokesperson Mark Butler praised our minority report. (Its suite of recommendations, including the targets we propose, are similar to Labor’s platform.)

Worse for the strategy, Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg’s reception of the majority report was somewhere between cold and dismissive. He’s new to the job, so perhaps the cunning plan has not yet been explained to him. After all, if he were in on it, wouldn’t he have welcomed the report and said the government would give it serious consideration?

The pragmatic pundits have invested their hopes in this delicate series of hypotheticals, viz., sceptical backbenchers are too dopey to realize what’s going on, Turnbull is still the old Malcolm, he has a lot of political capital, he will spend it on climate change, and Labor will go along with it all.

It seems to me that in their desire to see Australia have a serious climate policy the pundits are victims of wishful thinking. Their desire is noble, but maybe they need a bucket of cold political reality tipped over them.

I might note here that when at times I have expressed doubts about whether this elaborate chain of hypotheticals would hold together, I have been assured, with nudges and winks, that others had inside information that made them confident it would all unfold according to plan.

It was on the basis of this particular reading of the political tea-leaves that David Karoly and I were expected to put our names to recommendations that soft-pedalled on the science. I had reached the view that the realists’ story was in fact a fantasy, and it seemed to me that by signing I would be downplaying the science (and the Authority’s own earlier work) in exchange for a big slice of pie in the sky.

Now the pundits are saying that by putting forward an alternative set of recommendations based on the science we are being ‘purists’ or, in Richard Denniss’s phrase, more interested in protest than progress. All because we no longer believed in their hypothetical house of cards.

In a strong sense, however, the question of which political story you believe is a side issue. The pundits are entitled to advocate policies based on their judgements about what may or may not get the numbers in the current parliament. But as members of a Commonwealth statutory authority, with a legislated obligation to provide independent advice based on the best scientific and economic evidence, we are not.

David Karoly and I take this obligation seriously, and have done so since we were appointed over four years ago. In its first three years, the Authority built a fine reputation for its independence, with a series of excellent reports signed off by all members, often after sharp differences of opinion had been resolved through a consensus process overseen by Bernie Fraser.

In the legislation establishing the Authority, its independence is underlined. In the second reading speech at the time of the Authority’s formation in 2012 the Minister told Parliament:

‘The authority will be independent from government. … This means that climate change policy will be directed by evidence and facts, rather than fear and political opportunism. It will take the politics out of the debate.’

It is the pundits’ role to put the politics into the debate. But when they criticise us for refusing to do the same they are saying that statutory authorities should be regarded as merely another player in the political game. And that is very sad.

[This article is also published in the Canberra Times.]

The Conversation

Clive Hamilton, Professor of Public Ethics, Centre For Applied Philosophy & Public Ethics (CAPPE), Charles Sturt University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Climate Change Authority suggests emissions trading but no new climate targets


Michael Hopkin, The Conversation

An “intensity-based” emissions trading scheme for the electricity sector, to begin in 2018, is among a “toolkit” of policies recommended by the Climate Change Authority in a report setting out how Australia can meet its obligations under the Paris climate treaty.

The scheme, similar to a plan proposed by Labor at the last federal election, would set “baselines” for greenhouse emissions per unit of electricity generation, awarding credits to generators who emit less. The report recommended that these baselines be steadily reduced to zero “well before 2050”.

But it stopped short of recommending a planned phase-out of the most polluting power sources such as brown coal power stations, concluding that this will not be a cost-effective way to decarbonise the sector.

“The final composition of the electricity sector would be a matter for various electricity companies,” said Climate Change Authority chair Wendy Craik, although she added that the new scheme would help to incentivise renewable energy.

The report also recommended applying baselines to other emissions-intensive industries such as cement, steel and natural gas, under the government’s existing “safeguard mechanism” which penalises emitters who overshoot these limits.

The report also calls for five-yearly reviews of Australia’s climate policies, beginning in 2022 – a similar timetable to the five-year reviews under which nations are required to review and strengthen their climate pledges under the Paris agreement. The government is already set to review the effectiveness of its existing climate policies next year.

The report does not recommend any strengthening of Australia’s current emissions target, which calls for a 26-28% reduction in greenhouse emissions on 2005 levels by 2030, or of the Renewable Energy Target, which was scaled back last year.

It also recommends continuing with the government’s A$2.55 billion Emissions Reduction Fund, which “reverse-auctions” taxpayer funds for emissions-reducing projects.

Craik said that Australia needs a wide range of policies to drive down emissions in different sectors of the economy.

But the report has revealed divisions within the Authority, with members Clive Hamilton and David Karoly reportedly planning to issue their own dissenting report in the coming days.

Last July, the Authority recommended much deeper emissions cuts of 40-60% on 2000 levels by 2030. But in December Australia’s more modest target was enshrined in the Paris agreement.

Craik said the Authority stands by its earlier report, despite it having been ignored by the government, and that the new report is “focused on the policies the government might use to hit its targets”.

She said that talk of ramping up Australia’s emissions targets is premature while the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is still working to calculate the carbon budget associated with the Paris agreement’s most ambitious goal of restricting global warming to 1.5℃. But she added that the policies recommended are designed to be “scalable” in future.

Climate Institute chief executive John Connor said the report’s recommendations “neglect a key fundamental of climate science” by failing to endorse deeper emissions cuts before 2030.

“If we emit more now, we have to emit much less later in order to keep within the overall temperature limits of 1.5-2℃ that the government agreed to in Paris,” he said.

The Climate Council also criticised the recommendations as “woefully inadequate”.

“Accepting Australia’s current 2030 emissions-reduction targets rather than the action required to limit global warming to less than 2℃ means the report’s recommendations will not protect Australians from dangerous climate change,” said council member Will Steffen.

The current targets would use up 84% of Australia’s overall carbon budget to meet the 2℃ target by 2030, he said.

Hitting the target?

Dylan McConnell, a research fellow at the Melbourne Energy Institute, said the suggestion of a baseline-and-credit scheme was unsurprising, as “that’s the direction everyone has been rowing in for the past 18 months or so”.

He said the report outlines ways in which the electricity sector can significantly cut its emissions by 2050, but none that is in line with meeting the Paris agreement’s goal of keeping global warming below 2℃.

To do that, Australia would need to emit less than 15g of CO₂ per kilowatt hour of electricity in 2050 – compared with 800g today. But the scenarios outlined in the report would fall well short of this, he said.

A baseline-and-credit scheme, unlike a carbon tax, would avoid passing on significant costs to consumers. But that would also mean consumers will be less likely to change their own behaviour and try to use less electricity, McConnell said.

He added that Australia’s current emissions targets, like those of many other nations, are not consistent with the 2℃ warming goal, and that any delay to strengthening these targets will make the job tougher still. “Kicking the can down the road always makes it harder,” he said.

RMIT University energy researcher Alan Pears said the gap between the politics and the science is “enormous and widening”.

“All we can hope for really in the next few years, regardless of who is in power, is to put in place the mechanisms for carbon pricing or trading, and see the beginnings with very low carbon prices and lots of generous exemptions,” he said.

The Conversation

Michael Hopkin, Environment + Energy Editor, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The fossil-fuelled political economy of Australian elections


David Holmes, Monash University

The endorsement for coal mining from the Labor-Coalition duopoly that the election campaign has seen in the last week makes the token appeals that have been made about tackling climate change even more disingenuous.

In this election campaign, the major parties have only brought up climate change when they have been pressed to do so at public forums, like leaders’ debates, the ABC’s Q&A, or when they treat social media as something that needs to be quelled.

The Coalition’s response is simply to say that Australia participated in the Paris agreement, and that is good enough. Labor, on the other hand, points to having outbid the Coalition on targets. Yet neither party is planning to deliver the cuts needed for Australia to play its part in keeping global warming below the 2℃ threshold.

Which leads us back to a question I will deal with at the end of this article: if polls are consistently showing that Australian voters want climate change on the election agenda, why are the leaders keeping so quiet about it?

Neither party is shy of talking up coal, however. Bill Shorten declared last week that a Labor government would not ban coal mining – and that it would be part of Australia’s energy needs for the foreseeable future.

But then on Tuesday, Attorney-General George Brandis, campaigning for Queensland’s most marginal seat of Capricornia, put in one of the pluckiest coal-selling performances of the campaign. He cited the gigantic Adani mine in central Queensland a saviour for the electorate.

We know that Adani, the massive Indian coal company, wants to develop the Carmichael mine, which according to some estimates could generate up to 10,000 jobs. And people in Rockhampton know that and they know that the Greens are doing everything they possibly can to prevent the development of the Adani mine.

They see their future prosperity as being bound up in the development of the Adani mine, and they know that if there were to be a Labor-Greens government, that would be the end of the Adani mine, that would be the end of coal mining in central Queensland, and that would be the end of their best shot at economic prosperity in the future.

But what doesn’t add up here is that around the world, coal is in terminal decline, while the future for renewables is looking very bright and secure.

Just to the north, the federal government has quarantined A$1 billion from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation for projects to “save” the Great Barrier Reef. But this money is demonstrably not going to create any jobs that are relevant to Capricornia. Apparently pork-barrelling is not needed in Capricornia, as the promise of coal is a ready replacement.

But the largest contradiction of all is the complete illogicality of claiming (even if without foundation) to save the reef and solve climate change in one Queensland electorate, while proposing to unleash one of the largest deposits of CO₂ to the world’s atmosphere from the electorate next door.

It is worth heeding 350.org’s Bill McKibben’s warning that if all the coal in the Galilee Basin, of which the Adani mine holds one of the largest deposits, is exported for burning, it would use up 30% of the world’s carbon budget. 100% of the budget gets you 2℃.

And new climate research looking at the difference between 1.5℃ and 2℃, suggests the latter will make what we experience at the upper limits of present-day climate variability the new normal around the globe, and worse closer to the equator.

The influence of the mining and energy industry on election campaigns

This leads us to ask serious questions about the influence that mining and energy companies have on major political parties during election campaigns.

There is some variation in which particular mining companies are favoured by particular parties. Labor is certainly not as keen on Adani as the Coalition is. But, in general, the support for fossil-fuel industries is part of the DNA of the major parties today.

It is well known there is a perpetually revolving door between mining/energy companies and politicians/staffers from the major parties.

Take the Labor Party. When Labor lost the last election, Martin Ferguson, Craig Emerson and Greg Combet either took up management jobs with mining and energy companies and associations or worked as consultants for them.

Combet, a former climate change minister, took up consultancies for coal seam gas companies AGL and Santos. Ferguson, resources minister during Labor’s last term of office, landed the position as chairman of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association’s advisory committee only six months after leaving politics.

With the Coalition, former National Party leader Mark Vaile is chairman of Whitehaven Coal, the company at the centre of protest and controversy at the Maules Creek mine. Another former National Party leader, John Anderson, became chairman of Eastern Star Gas only two years after quitting Canberra.

The Sydney Morning Herald’s Anne Davies last year found a complex web of interlocking networks of influence that tied together NSW Premier Mike Baird’s office, then-prime minister Tony Abbott’s office, and energy and mining companies including AGL and Santos.

At times, these companies brought together high-profile Liberal and Labor politicians. Santos engaged a lobbying company, Bespoke Approach, which listed former Labor senator Nick Bolkus and former Liberal South Australian premier John Olson as directors.

AGL lays claim to the same cross-party alliance between former Labor minister John Dawkins and former Liberal senator Helen Coonan, who co-chair lobbying firm GRA Cosway.

But what is less-well-known is the degree to which mining and energy companies have enticed media advisors from the major parties to walk through that revolving door. Davies included an interactive graphic in her report that shows the rotation of media people between Canberra, mining and energy companies, and state politics.

Understanding the rotation of media advisors does not just open up the question of lobbying – it also explains how governments may feel obliged to legitimate their support for fossil fuel.

Such staffers are a real prize for the companies. They give them access to the media strategies of government departments, which may translate into real influence about the kind of messages that might be most favourable to their company’s operations.

Carbon-laced political donations

It is now a matter of public record that fossil-fuel interests have bankrolled climate denialism around the world for decades. The case of the collapsing edifice of Peabody Energy, once the world’s largest coal company, is a paradigm example of this. Fossil-fuel companies even sponsored the Paris climate summit.

But can the donations of fossil-fuel companies also influence election campaigns? Well, yes they can, but we won’t find out who and how this might be happening until after the election.

A recent Four Corners program delved into the lack of transparency of Australia’s donation process. For example, knowledge of who is funding the parties in this election campaign won’t be revealed until the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) releases its data in February next year.

But we do know from the last election campaign that mining and energy companies loomed large as donors for both Labor and Liberal parties. The AEC’s data release from February 2014 showed the Liberal Party received more than $1.8 million directly from energy companies that supported the repeal of an emissions trading scheme (ETS).

Even more was donated via the Liberal-linked Cormack Foundation. Two of the biggest “receipts” to the Cormack Foundation were BHP and Rio Tinto.

Labor received only $453,000 from mining and energy companies in the context of the immense industry opposition to an emissions trading scheme.

Speculating on 2016 party donations

The 2013 election was all about mining and energy companies donating in return for killing the carbon tax. This has now been completed. Job done, time to move on.

With the carbon tax gone, and millions in corporate welfare flowing directly to the mining and energy companies from taxpayers, all that the PR departments of these companies would be worried about is that climate change is kept off the election agenda.

Such an environment would suit the fossil-fuel industries as they fight for a few more years of viability in a world that is abandoning them. As constitutional lawyer George Williams has observedof all forms of corporate donations:

These companies are hoping that giving money will lead to outcomes. That’s why they’re doing it, and that’s one of the key problems of the current system.

So, here is a hypothetical PR strategy that would make perfect sense for the mining and energy sectors in this election, in eight easy steps.

Step One: Mining and Energy companies donate to major political parties with a request to drop climate change from their campaigns.

Step Two: Major political parties agree not to run on a climate platform and continue to heavily subsidise the operations of mining companies.

Step Three: Parties use money for broadcast and newspaper campaign budgets.

Step Four: Newspapers and TV and radio outlets sell the attention spans of audiences to the advertisers of political parties for large sums.

Step Five: Major parties expect that audiences will be persuaded to vote for one of them, while fossil-fuel company donations are justified by backing both possible winners who will look after their interests. The investment would only fail if one of the parties had to share power with minor parties or independents.

Step Six: Major parties continue to support coal and energy companies, offering them mining exploration licences, mining leases and export licences.

Step Seven: A part of the donations that energy companies give to parties is paid by consumers of increased electricity prices as well as taxpayers who are subsidising the corporate welfare that goes to these companies.

Step Eight: With favourable regulatory conditions for mining and electricity generation, mining and energy companies have greater certainty with which to expand their investments, operations and profits – some of which can be injected back into the political process at election time.

To the extent that this hypothesis is proven to be correct, and repeats the processes at play in the 2013 election, what emerges is that although Australia enjoys the free speech of a multi-party democracy, discussion of climate change is not free from the influence of capital in the election process.

To the extent that the major donors to Labor and Coalition are dominated by mining and energy, it is in the interests of this industry to finance a political duopoly that encourages the closure of public debates that do not conform to its interests.

The winners in this process can be identified as a media-political-industrial complex. This complex is a kind of three-way protectorate, where each group looks after itself by looking after the other two.

Broadcasters and newspapers are winners as they generate large revenues at election time that is channelled to them by political parties from the donors.

Mining and energy companies are winners, as they are able to distract voters from climate change and reduce pressure on parties to decarbonise the economy and regulate against their activities.

The parties are winners as they only need to neglect climate change in return for millions of dollars in donations to their election campaigns.

The losers are the voters, who are not only forced to subsidise the political conditions that make their per-capita emissions four times higher than the global average, but also subsidise the conditions in which climate is taken off the public agenda.

The biggest losers are our grandchildren, who are going to inherit the climate mess created by the manipulative, influence-peddling mediocrity that plays out over three-year election cycles – and not just in Australia.

The Conversation

David Holmes, Senior Lecturer, Communications and Media Studies, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.